Mon, Sep 03, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Hush payments spell danger for Trump

Donald Trump took an extraordinary risk to keep alleged extramarital affairs secret, a concern that feels somewhat quaint in the context of his public behavior

By Tom McCarthy  /  The Guardian

In the plea deal, Cohen’s legal team agreed with prosecutors that the hush payments violated federal laws restricting direct corporate donations to political candidates and limiting individual gifts to US$2,700 per cycle.

The payment to McDougal was US$150,000. Daniels got US$130,000.

Cohen told the court that Trump directed him to make the payments, implicating the president in the crime.

As Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, put it: “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”

The Cohen plea deal “raises the stakes very significantly for the president himself,” said Ryan Goodman, a professor of law at New York University.

“I do think that the most important new development of the last few months is the Michael Cohen guilty plea,” Goodman said, “because it points a finger directly at the president for criminal liability, and it comes out of the SDNY office” — the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York — “which is not something that the president could even begin to control in the same way that he or his appointees could try to control the [special counsel Robert] Mueller investigation.”

Most analysts agree that Trump is not likely to be charged with a crime during his time in office.

Trump himself has asserted his innocence, tweeting: “The only thing that I have done wrong is to win an election that was expected to be won by Crooked [then-candidate] Hillary [Rodham] Clinton and the Democrats.”

However, the prospect of a president known for misogynistic behavior being laid low by a serial adultery scandal is laden with irony, said Juliet Williams, a professor of gender studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and contributing co-editor of Public Affairs: Politics in the Age of Sex Scandals.

“What I think is so ironic and satisfying about the Cohen deal is that the president is going to be brought down by having taken this huge risk, and compromised himself legally, to hide something that nobody cares about, because it’s like one tiny straw of hay in a giant haystack of bad behavior,” Williams said.

“Here’s candidate Trump running for office, blatantly misogynistic, not afraid to get on a stage and criticize women for their appearance, known to speak in vulgar terminology — and also running on a platform that is widely characterized by opponents as anti-woman. And all of that is out there,” she said.

“This candidate and his handlers make an assessment in 2016 that even with everything that’s out there, it would somehow be damaging if the public were to get wind of two extramarital affairs,” she said.

The calculation to pay off Daniels and McDougal was made under pressure.

A month before the election, the Trump campaign was hit by the release of an Access Hollywood video in which Trump could be heard saying that one of his techniques for approaching women was to “grab ’em by the pussy.”

The tape precipitated a wave of sexual misconduct accusations against the candidate and convinced Cohen of the importance of heading off further stories, the Wall Street Journal reported.

One woman with a story — and a lawyer — was Daniels. She had seen the Access Hollywood video and it prompted her to step forward again with her Trump story, which she had related to journalists before, but which had never been published.

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